Govt plans na­tional guide­lines to com­bat ‘for­got­ten’ lep­rosy

The Myanmar Times - - News - HTIKE NANDA WIN news­room@mm­times.com MYINT KAY THI my­in­tkaythi@mm­times.com

LEP­ROSY, the “for­got­ten dis­ease”, is still rag­ing in Myan­mar, with about 3000 pa­tients suf­fer­ing from it. De­spite mea­sures taken to­ward elim­i­na­tion, the in­ci­dence has been un­changed for more than a decade, ex­perts say.

Ac­cord­ing to 2015 sta­tis­tics, 70 per­cent of lep­rosy pa­tients in Myan­mar are at risk of fur­ther in­fec­tions. Chil­dren aged un­der 15 rep­re­sent 5pc of suf­fer­ers, and about 14pc of the to­tal pa­tients suf­fer from se­vere, Grade-2 dis­abil­i­ties.

The Peo­ple’s Health Foun­da­tion, in co­op­er­a­tion with the Min­istry of Health and Sport and the Mitta Arr Man Or­gan­i­sa­tion, held a sem­i­nar on lep­rosy on Au­gust 26 in Yan­gon.

Health ex­perts told the sem­i­nar that the num­ber of pa­tients had sta­bilised at be­tween 2500 and 3000 for the past 12 years or so.

Dr Oke Soe, deputy di­rec­tor of the lep­rosy project at the pub­lic health de­part­ment, said the min­istry is plan­ning to draw up na­tional guide­lines for com­bat­ing the dis­ease from 2016 to 2020. “We aim to com­plete the guide­lines this year,”he said.

“Fund­ing re­quests have been sub­mit­ted to or­gan­i­sa­tions sup­port­ing anti-lep­rosy ac­tiv­i­ties, and the gov­ern­ment has been im­ple­ment­ing an aware­ness cam­paign,” he said.

“Nine pa­tients out of 10 come to the health cen­tre only when the symp­toms are al­ready ap­par­ent. That’s why so many suf­fer dis­abil­i­ties. For ev­ery 30 lep­rosy vic­tims, two suf­fer a se­vere dis­abil­ity.”

Health work­ers’ big­gest fear is the spread of lep­rosy among chil­dren, said Dr Myat Thida of the Lep­rosy Mis­sion Myan­mar. “The num­ber of chil­dren com­ing to the clin­ics with lep­rosy that could lead to dis­abil­i­ties is very wor­ry­ing. Ev­ery year, about 3000 pa­tients come to the clinic. If we could go out and search in the com­mu­nity, we don’t know how many more we might find.”

Dr Oak Soe said 4-5pc of to­tal new cases were un­der 15 years of age. Staff short­ages meant that pre­ven­tion ac­tiv­i­ties in pock­ets of in­fec­tion were hard to sus­tain. He added that 10-15pc of new cases in­volve a Grade 2 dis­abil­ity on the WHO’s 0-2 grad­ing scale.

Dr Than Sein, pres­i­dent of the Peo­ple’s Health Foun­da­tion, said, “Most peo­ple for­got about lep­rosy af­ter the an­nounce­ment that the dis­ease had been elim­i­nated.” That was why pro­tec­tion and pre­ven­tion ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grams had been weak­ened, he said. Vic­tims of the dis­ease failed to recog­nise its early symp­toms, and did not know where the near­est health cen­tre was lo­cated.

The WHO said in 2014 that Myan­mar, with 2877 suf­fer­ers, was fifth in the world for lep­rosy cases. In­dia, at num­ber one, has 125,785 cases.

In 1986, when the WHO in­tro­duced multi-drug ther­apy to Myan­mar, the num­ber of reg­is­tered lep­rosy cases was 222,209 and the preva­lence rate was 59.3 per 10,000 pop­u­la­tion. Myan­mar achieved its elim­i­na­tion tar­get in 2003 when the in­ci­dence fell to less than one per­son in 10,000.

About 90 per­cent of pa­tients come from Yan­gon, Man­dalay, Sa­gaing, Magwe, Bago and Aye­yarwady re­gions and Shan State, said Dr Oke Soe.

Daw Thida, 75, who has a lep­rosyre­lated dis­abil­ity, said, “I de­vel­oped the symp­toms of lep­rosy when I was 17 years old. There was a white spot on my skin. The dis­ease has cost me many op­por­tu­ni­ties in my life.”

Health ex­perts say lep­rosy pa­tients are still strug­gling with dis­crim­i­na­tion, in ad­di­tion to their phys­i­cal and men­tal dis­tress.

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